Below is a press release from Jason Kruk and Hayden Kennedy about the recent controversy they found themselves embroiled in down in Patagonia:
“As a society we have removed other mistakes, like the Berlin Wall. History doesn’t stop. History is happening right now. Hopefully the bolts are history someday.” – Zach Smith
If you are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Cerro Torre on a rare, clear day, you will understand why many consider it the most beautiful and compelling mountain in the world. Messner called it ‘a shriek turned to stone’. The contradiction between its great beauty and its intimidating aspects will make the head spin of any enterprising climber wanting to one day try it.
In mid January, 2012, Hayden Kennedy and I completed the defining climb of our collective careers. But, the mountain and our route have been betrayed by the unfortunate controversy that enshrouds it like the clouds.
We agreed to meet in El Chalten, the gateway town to the range, in early December 2011. In the month leading up to our trip, Hayden and I hadn’t talked much. He was in Turkey sportclimbing and preoccupied with a Norwegian girl there. I was in Mexico flying paragliders. Despite seven seasons of cumulative experience in the range and a lengthy wish-list, we hadn’t talked about any specific objectives other than wanting to ‘climb on the Torres’ and do it in our favorite style – fast, light, and as free as can be. We knew the best laid plans would likely be scattered by the Patagonian winds. Better to be adaptable and simply go with the flow. We have always been on the same page, climbing wise, since our first time tying in together a couple years ago. That was at the base of Cerro Fitz Roy which we climbed via a Patagonian classic, the Supercanaleta (1600m 6a+ 85 degrees), a route that on the first ascent was a high water mark of climbing style. It was completed in 1965 by Argentine climbers Carlos Comesana and Jose Luis Fonrouge in perfect alpine style over a three day round trip, stats very impressive by even modern standards, infinitely more so considering the equipment of the time. It was also the second-ever ascent of Cerro Fitz Roy.
It wasn’t long upon our arrival in El Chalten before the weather looked good enough for an attempt on something. We chose to climb the classic Exocet (500m 6a WI5 MI3), on Aguja Standhardt, the perfect intro route to the specific nuances of Torre climbing. A week or so later we climbed Punta Herron via Spigolo dei Bimbi (350m 6b MI5) as well as the Huber-Schnarf (200m 6b+ MI3), summiting Torre Egger in a long day camp to camp. In this time we also climbed the classic Chiaro di Luna on Aguja St. Exupery and established a new route on Aguja de l’S.
We were certainly fulfilling our plans to ‘climb on the Torres’, having completed routes on three out of the four. Remaining only was Cerro Torre, a mountain I had tried to climb the year before. Chris Geisler and I had reached a point some 40 meters shy of the top of the headwall. We had attempted the southeast ridge, the line of the Compressor Route, but had avoided using any of Maestri’s bolts. When our best guess at the line of weakness up the headwall dead-ended we had two options: retreat, or continue up the bolt line.
We would not summit the Torre that year. Our attempt was soured by the reawakening of the Cerro Torre controversy that Chris and I were now swept up in. Loving the controversy, all the magazines wanted to know my opinion. The hype became too much – recycled garbage. Eventually I was tired of it all, the idea of comparing myself to someone else sickened me. My plan was never to promote my ascent nor defame David Lama.
Hayden and I would focus our energy on another line on the Torre this season: the north face. The wild face is full of adventure and the unknown. Feeling uber-fit and stoked to the max, we knew we had a shot if the weather continued to cooperate. However, the month of January was uncharacteristically warm in the mountains, and attempting the north face seemed just too dangerous. The most logical line to attempt was now my old friend the Southeast Ridge.
On the morning of January 15th Hayden and I left Niponino basecamp, approached Cerro Torre and climbed the 300m mixed ‘approach’ to the Col of Patience slowly, conserving as much energy as possible. Here we relaxed in the shade of our tent, and drank and ate as much as possible. With binoculars, we spied discontinuous features splitting the very left of the headwall that would possibly connect the line Geisler and I had attempted with the summit.
We slept through our 11 p.m. alarm, waking at 2 a.m. We pounded coffee, got psyched, and were climbing by 2:45. Joyous, splitter climbing comprises the majority of the lower SE Ridge. We hooted and hollered into the night as we made very quick time in the dark. We reached the Salvaterra-Mabboni variation just before first light, around 5:00am. The integral ridgeline above was attempted as early as 1968 and finally climbed in 1999 by Ermanno Salvaterra and Mauro Mabboni. From here the Compressor Route beelines inexplicably right, across blank rock and hundreds of bolts. Hayden led the beautiful A1 splitter crack above, using a couple knifeblades in between small cams. The climbing on the ridge above is absolutely brilliant – immaculate 5.10 edges in an exposed position on the arete. Short-fixing off a two-bolt anchor, Hayden continued up the arete at top speed while I followed on the jumars as quickly as possible. I reached the belay, an incredible position at an apex above the south face, gasping for breath. Looking right, ice and mixed terrain led through the ice tower features. Grabbing the rack and changing into crampons, we high-fived and I took off, navigating the ice and mixed pitches, short-fixing the rope for Hayden to follow all the way to the base of the WI5 chimney. This long, steep pitch, first climbed by Josh Wharton and Zack Smith, bypasses yet another bolt ladder up a blank wall to its right. The ice was cold, bullet-hard. I ran it out between three ice screws, Hayden followed. We were at the base of the headwall, elated.
Donning rock shoes, Hayden cast off on the steep ground above. The first two pitches were comprised of athletic 5.11- climbing over large, positive flakes. Deviating just right, then left, of the Compressor bolts, Hayden ran it out between solid cams, commenting on the bliss of the quality movement in such an extreme environment. Reaching a mid-way ledge, Hayden free climbed directly left off the belay, finding free-climbable edges where Chris last year, in a weakened state, had resorted to techno-aid. From this point Chris had placed a bolt in a blank section of rock and had climbed right, across a feature that would eventually deadend on us last year. Hayden reached the bolt and lowered to the level of my belay. Running back and forth across the headwall, Hayden stuck an edge at the apex of this King Swing. More edges led down to a small perch on the immediate left edge of the headwall. Cleaning the pitch and lowering out off the bolt, I joined Hayden at this belay stance, a spot so exposed we may as well have been on the moon.
Above, discontinuous cracks, edges, and ice blobs provided passage up perfect red patina granite. Hayden expertly navigated the complex terrain with a mixture of free and ice climbing. The only aid was in the name of alpine efficiency – stopping to stand in a sling to chop a couple cam placements out of iced-up cracks. After another belay, Hayden, still feeling psyched to lead, lead a brilliant traverse a stones throw from the top of the headwall, following a magic splitter crack. The crack dead-ended and Hayden, arms failing from dehydration, hooked the ultimate moves to the top of the headwall. Hayden started screaming and I knew it was in the bag. I followed the pitch with a massive shit-eating grin. We had held our breath till this point, honestly expecting to be shut down at any moment.
We dropped our gear on the summit snowfield and ran up the final mushroom to the summit. We had just done the first fair-means ascent of the Southeast Ridge of Cerro Torre in 13 hours.
There has been a lot of talk over the years about chopping the Compressor bolts. Undoubtably, it is a lot easier to talk about it than to actually do it and deal with the consequences. After a lengthy introspection on the summit, we knew the act needed to be initiated by one party, without consensus. The tribes will always remain too polarized to reach a common ground. Of course at cocktail hour in El Chalten there was much talk of those ‘what ifs’ of climbing the SE Ridge. Truthfully, during our climb and the days preceding it, Hayden and I talked nothing of removing the bolts.
Fair means does not mean no bolts. Reasonable use of bolts has been a long-accepted practice in this mountain range. Often, steep, blank granite would be folly without the sparing using of this type of protection. We clipped four bolts placed by Salvaterra on his variation – two in a belay and two for protection. At that point on the route, Hayden was short-fixing with a 35 meter loop of slack, surely a death-fall anyways. He could have clearly skipped them, but that’s not the point. These bolts were placed in blank granite, by hand, on otherwise un-protectable terrain. Higher we used the bolt placed by Chris on our attempt last year. Five bolts for four hundred seemed like a pretty good trade to us. We also used two of Maestri’s original belays on the headwall. These were in spots in close-proximity to other natural anchor options. Believe us, we know how to build gear anchors. The fact that we were planning on leaving these bolts in anyways, meant it was too silly not to use them on the ascent. Our ultimate goal was respect for the mountain. The headwall rappels could have been chopped and replaced by nuts and pitons. However, considering that on a beautiful and popular line there will inevitably be rappel anchors in place, it seemed more logical to leave the established anchors, rather than remove them, and let the anchors slowly degrade into the 5 and 6-piece rappel anchors of tattered cord that are found on other popular routes in the range.
In the end, we removed the bolts on the entire headwall and on one of the pitches below. Our best guess would count around 125. We would have continued chopping below, if not for our friends Victor and Ricardo, dependent on the bolts of the 90-meter bolt traverse to descend themselves.
The question that remains, is why? Maestri’s actions were a complete atrocity. His use of bolts and heavy machinery was outrageous, even for the time. The Southeast Ridge was attainable by fair means in the ’70s, he stole that climb from the future.
Cerro Torre, a mountain so perfectly steep on all sides, is the postcard for the ideal that is alpinism. There should be no easy way to the top. The fact that there was a glorified via-ferrata to its summit deeply offended a global community of dedicated alpinists. If Cerro Torre was any more accessible, someone would have chopped Maestri’s bolts a long time ago, returning the mountain to its former grandeur.
Who committed the act of violence against Cerro Torre? Maestri, by installing the bolts, or us, by removing them?
As long as the hardware remained it was justification for the unreasonable use of bolts by others. We are part of the next generation, the young group of aspiring alpinists. This is a statement we felt other young alpinists needed to hear.
Our real feelings were confirmed by three young Argentine climbers we passed on the Torre Glacier while hiking out of the range. Their eyes lit up as they told us how inspired they were to climb on Cerro Torre now, to train harder, to be better. To rise up to the challenge that has been restored to the mountain. Two days later they would make a rare ascent of Aguja Standhardt, via Festerville. Respect.
A bunch of people climbed the Compressor Route and had fun, but now it’s a new era for Cerro Torre. Days after our ascent, young, talented Austrian alpinists, David Lama and Peter Ortner free-climbed their own variation on the Southeast Ridge. This news was greatly inspirational to Hayden and I, and is further proof that the bolts were unnecessary.
It would be hard to claim more authority than Comesana, who, upon hearing the news of our actions responded:
“In my name and the others that resign the dream to climb for first this fantastic mountain I claim for our rights to delete from the walls of Cerro Torre all the remainings – compressor inclusive – of the rape made by Maestri in the ’70’s and I think that no one – for any reason – can have more rights than ours.”
–Jason Kruk, Squamish, BC
–Hayden Kennedy, Carbondale, Colorado